No. 11 Texas 64, No. 18 Kansas 60
DALLAS (AP)—Brandon Mouton hit a 3-pointer that stretched Texas’ lead and ran back on defense with his arms up, flashing three fingers on each hand.
Then he made another on the next possession and simply walked back to midcourt, nodding his head. After scoring 10 straight points, he felt pretty good about the Longhorns’ chances of making it to the finals of the Big 12 tournament.
Mouton’s spurt gave No. 11 Texas the push it needed to beat No. 18 Kansas 64-60 in the tournament semifinal Saturday. It was the second straight game he scored the key points, providing the kind of spark T.J. Ford gave the Longhorns last March when it reached the Final Four.
“Those two 3s were big shots,” said Mouton, who scored 18 points. “I knew in my head Kansas would have to make plays to bounce back and they did, but those baskets gave us enough of a cushion to finish the game.”
After a two-game slump, both losses, Mouton appears to have regained the feel of his previous five games, when he averaged 22.8 points.
Texas (23-6) will need him at his best Sunday when it faces No. 7 Oklahoma State in the tournament final. The Cowboys, who beat Texas Tech 82-77 in the other semifinal Saturday, held Mouton to a total of 17 points while beating the Longhorns twice this season.
The Jayhawks (21-8) blew an early 11-point lead and were up briefly at the start of the second half. They got within two twice in the last 1:30, but couldn’t get ahead.
“Our energy level wasn’t where it needed to be by any stretch,” said first-year Kansas coach Bill Self. “I think we’re playing our best ball all year, but it was not evident for a large part of that game.”
Part of the problem was Texas’ stifling defense on Wayne Simien, holding him without a field goal the final 38:28 after he scored 31 points on 12-of-14 shooting in a second-round win over Missouri. He was 2-of-8 and 5-of-6 from the line for nine points, and had 10 rebounds.
The Jayhawks also had 16 turnovers and shot just 16-of-28 from the line, including 4-of-10 in the final 10 minutes.
“We made too many mental mistakes and a solid team will capitalize on those mistakes,” said Keith Langford, who had 14 points and eight rebounds, matching Jeff Graves for team highs in each category. “They did a good job of waiting for us to mess up.”
After overcoming a 12-point deficit in the final seven minutes Friday night to beat Oklahoma, the Longhorns found themselves down 13-2 seven minutes into this game.
They went ahead for the first time on a three-point play by Mouton with 1:27 left in the first half.
It was tied at 45 with 9:40 left when Jason Klotz put Texas ahead with a bank shot. Then Mouton took over, scooping in a layup, hitting another one, then making the consecutive 3s just 20 seconds apart.
“Brandon was huge again in the second half,” said Klotz, who had 14 points and eight rebounds. “He hit the clutch shots in the end to help us.”
The Jayhawks made it 60-58, then Klotz answered with a layup off a wraparound pass by Royal Ivey. Then Graves put in an air ball by J.R. Giddens to make it 62-60 and the Jayhawks quickly fouled Ivey in hopes he’d miss the front end of a one-and-one with 14.1 seconds left.
Ivey, a 56-percent foul shooter, made both, clinching Texas’ second trip to the conference finals in the event’s eight-year history. Whoever wins, the Longhorns or Cowboys, will be a first-time Big 12 tournament champion.
“They’re going to play hard, we’re going to play hard,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “These teams know each other really, really well.”
The Longhorns have beaten Kansas twice in a row after losing the previous three. Texas set a school record with its seventh win over a ranked team, and the 11-point comeback was one shy of the season-best set the night before.
The Jayhawks had won four straight since an 82-67 loss to the Longhorns three weeks ago. They haven’t won this tournament since capturing the first three, from 1997-99.
Self tried motivating his team by saying this game could determine which Big 12 team plays its first two games in Kansas City. Such placement would obviously be a bigger boost for Kansas than Texas or Oklahoma State.
“We probably won’t end up in Kansas City,” Langford said. “But you just have to be ready to go back out and play.”